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The Bruck Podcast

"Bruck" is "junk", but in a "one man's trash is another man's treasure" sort of way.

Aug 29, 2021

"I love bitches. Many of them."
Bhagwan Shree Rajneesh, 1985, 60 Minutes Australia

Hi, I'm Tom, and you're listening to a special edition of the Bruck Podcast.

In mid-1981, an enigmatic and incendiary guru named Bhagwan Shree Rajneesh relocated from his ashram in Poona, India, eventually settling at a remote ranch in North Central Oregon. With designs on establishing a religious commune, what followed were four years of conflict between the guru and his followers on the one hand, and the local populace on the other, which culminated with the biggest act of bioterrorism in American history. When the dust finally settled, the guru had been effectively deported from America, his ruthless personal secretary and several of her key lieutenants were either serving time in a federal prisons or evading arrest, and a handful of his followers were liquidating the commune's assets. Rajneesh eventually re-branded himself as "Osho", and died in January of 1990 under questionable circumstances.

Nearly four decades later, Oregon's Rajneeshee crisis had devolved into one more forgotten episode in American history. Every now and again, an interview or documentary would bubble up, most of them from strictly Oregonian sources, for the consumption of Oregonians. Then, in early 2018, Netflix released a six part documentary entitled Wild Wild Country, which leveraged both archival footage and new interviews to highlight the four-year-long standoff. The documentary became an overnight blockbuster, even inspiring a Saturday Night Live sketch.

Wild Wild Country served as an adequate primer on the crisis, its background, and its immediate aftermath. However, while the documentary introduced the crisis to a new generation of Americans - and reintroduced it to many Oregonians - the documentary erred on the side of fairness. Instead of acting as responsible moderators, the filmmakers - directors McClain and Chapman Way, and producers Mark and Jay Duplass - handed a microphone to the late guru's secretary, Ma Anand Sheela, and his attorney, Philip Niren Toelkes, and let their testimony go more or less unchallenged. Later in 2018, I watched an enlightening interview with the filmmakers:

"To me, the core of the story is about that fear of the 'other', is, this small conservative town watching this religious force come in, and their way of life, and being afraid of them, and digging their heels in, because they don't understand them. Likewise, the Rajneeshees being sort of fearful of these sort of small town, conservative people who were reluctant to them, and profiling them. And I was like, 'Well, this is as relevant in 2018 as anything I've seen,' so that really, that sealed it for me."
- Mark Duplass, WWC Executive Producer

"Both sides claim that they're heroes, and both sides say that the other side is pure evil. For each of these sides in this documentary, they see it as clearly black and white, and right and wrong... You'll hear Rajneeshees say, like, 'We just wanted to build this utopian paradise, and we bought sixty-four thousand acres in the middle of nowhere in the Oregon desert, and we just wanted to be left alone.' And you'll kind of hear the Antelopians say that, 'Well, we were a town of forty people, and we just kind of wanted to be left alone, too.' But kind of as you work your way through, you see these two groups, they never really make compromises, they just each kind of go farther and farther away from each other, until it becomes just a full-on war in the state of Oregon."
- Maclain Way, WWC Director

"It's almost like there was this weird opportunity where they might have been able to get along earlier in the story, maybe, but that cultural divide was just, they weren't really, it just wasn't about building bridges between these two communities."
- Maclain Way, WWC Director

"One thing I found kind of interesting was actually the similarities between the two groups. Antelope was a frontier town that was built by settlers, they built their own village of what they wanted; I would say it's ninety-nine percent Christians who live in this community, they built their version, they have their church in the middle of the town. And the Rajneeshees kind of have the same spirit, it was almost like this extreme libertarian group that believed in, we don't need support from others, you build yourself up by your own bootstraps, they embraced capitalism. So, kind of looking at them forty years later, it was interesting for me to see, wow, there's a lot more similarities here between these two groups than I think that they'd like to recognize or realize."
- Chapman Way, WWC Director

When I heard this, I couldn't help but conclude that these outsiders had gotten the overarching narrative completely wrong. My suspicions were confirmed a year later when I visited The Dalles, the site of the aforementioned bioterrorism attack, and met a relative of one of the public officials who was poisoned during a prior trip to the commune. She told me that the filmmakers' failure to call Sheela out for her lies had quickly led her to turn the documentary off. The documentary advanced no shortage of erroneous or misleading claims - for example, the commune was physically incapable of producing enough food to feed dozens, let alone hundreds or thousands, of residents, nor was their community free from venereal disease. Like a game of telephone, these erroneous points were then proliferated through podcasts and other digital media outlets. So, as an Oregonian - and, in fact, an Oregonian whose relative's name was on Ma Anand Sheela's hit list - I decided to produce an Oregonian rebuttal to Wild Wild Country. Instead of nitpicking, I decided to focus on the five biggest misconceptions advanced by the filmmakers. Released to coincide with the fortieth anniversary of the guru's arrival in Oregon, this is A Much Wilder Country, a special episode of the Bruck Podcast.

* * *

Myth #1: The local, state, and federal governments, and the entire population of Oregon, harassed the Rajneeshees from the very beginning.

The Evidence: It's important to remember that the Rajneeshees didn't just appear in Oregon; rather, they'd left India in a hurry because years of alleged tax evasion, prostitution, narcotics trafficking, and a variety of other behavior had earned them a reputation that caught up with them almost immediately. Unfortunately, the relatively cordial early weeks deteriorated rapidly as the Rajneeshees' reverted to the behavior they'd resorted to in India. Let's look at a few different cases.

First, there's Margaret Hill, who was Mayor of Antelope when the Rajneeshees initiated their takeover, and who was eventually ousted by Ma Prem Kavido when the Rajneeshees consolidated their takeover of the Antelope city council. In a contemporary interview, Mrs. Hill insisted that when the Rajneeshees arrived, they were welcome, and seen as something of a novelty.

"When they first came, they were truly welcome to the community. They were different, and anyone who's different is, is looked at a lot. We were interested in them, but basically, it wasn't until they really started throwing their weight around."
- Margaret Hill, undated, sourced from Wild Wild Country

Hill reiterated this in a 2012 documentary by Oregon Public Broadcasting.

"Someone said that a cult had bought the Muddy. We sort of joked about it, y'know. 'How 'bout that, we'll have our own cult!'"
- Margaret Hill, Oregon Experience: Rajneeshpuram, 2012

Local opposition commenced, and grew more contentious, as the Rajneeshees resorted to hostile tactics in an effort to overcome the problems they had created for themselves. Regional and county officials held out even longer. Central Oregon officials saw the Rajneeshees as a source of much-needed revenue, since they were spending the sannyasins' money like drunken sailors in the course of turning the derelict ranch into a religious commune. Here's a clip from that same 2012 OPB documentary, featuring former news videographer Milt Ritter:

"There were all these offices just dedicated to, y'know, making blueprints and, y'know, getting vendors, with pipe and lumber and gravel, and so when they came in and started buying large amounts of building materials, that helped a lot of companies."
- Milt Ritter, Oregon Experience: Rajneeshpuram, 2012

Another source on this is Les Zaitz, an investigative journalist who covered events at the Ranch, and who appeared on the Think Out Loud program on Oregon Public Broadcasting in 2011, thirty years after the guru fled India for the States.

"As I was looking through the archives of state Governor Vic Atiyeh, who was in office, Republican, at the time the commune was in existence, in early 1982 and on through that year, he was getting literally dozens of letters from business owners from Central Oregon to Portland, praising the Rajneeshees, and underscoring what a financial asset these folks were to the Oregon economy. You have to remember, at this time Oregon was in the depths of a severe repression... Excuse me, recession, and so people writing million dollar checks were very attractive to business folks. So they were, for a time, a considerable source of income. And then that changed as their financials tightened up."
- Les Zaitz, OPB's Think Out Loud, 2011

Oregon's late Attorney General, Dave Frohnmayer, confirmed this in a German documentary that I've refrained from excerpting on the grounds that it's over-dubbed in German. After Wild Wild Country premiered, some co-workers and I met over lunch to discuss our reactions. We subsequently learned that one of the people who attended that lunch is the granddaughter of the non-sanyassin who spent several years working as the commune's electrician. We later learned that the oldest guy in our organization had worked at an electronics store, sold the commune all of their audio/visual equipment, and even got to meet the guru himself.

The Rajneeshees also established a questionable relationship with one Wasco County commissioner by buying fifty head of his cattle; and cultivated a relationship with Jefferson County District Attorney Mike Sullivan - heard in the following clip from KATU TV's Town Hall program - who is, ironically, believed to be one of the first victims of their bioterrorism efforts.

"Jack, I think you know at the present time, communication has broken down between the parties, and I'm trying to get some of the people together, and maybe you'll discuss that or address that issue later. And rather than put me in either corner, at this time, I'd really rather direct my efforts at maybe establishing some lines of communication to resolve some conflicts."
Mike Sullivan, KATU's Town Hall, circa 1983

Even the feds got in on the action. John Mathis, the representative from the Justice Department's Federal Mediation Service, who was dispatched to orchestrate a settlement between the Rajneeshees and the local community, ended up acting as a de facto informant to Rajneeshpuram mayor Krishna Deva, one of Ma Anand Sheela's key lieutenants.

Operator: Can I have the number you're calling from?
Krishna Deva: Four-eight-nine, nine-two-three-three.
Operator: Thank you, go ahead.
Krishna Deva: Hello!
John Mathis: Hello.
Krishna Deva: Good morning.
John Mathis: Morning, how are you?
Krishna Deva: Cold!
John Mathis: Are you where we... ?
Krishna Deva: Yeah, it's cold out here at this pay phone.
John Mathis: Okay, let me tell you something: they are after Sheela.
Krishna Deva: Who's they?
John Mathis: All the way up. Wednesday, there's gonna be a major meeting... Involving... Senators, U.S. attorney, prosecutors...
FBI wiretap, 1984, from The Oregonian

One prominent Sannyasin, Shannon Jo Ryan, even managed to score a trip to the White House early in the group's Oregon phase. There were other examples.

  • Members of the commune's so-called "Peace Force" were allowed to attend Oregon's police academy, build and maintain an armory of heavy weapons, and access police databases.
  • In March of 1983, Ma Anand Sheela was allowed to lead Rajneeshee prayers in both houses of the Oregon Legislative Assembly.
  • In April of 1983, Oregon Geology magazine - the official magazine of the Oregon Department of Geology and Mineral Industries - announced an Oregon Association of Engineering Geologists field trip to Rajneeshpuram.
  • In direct opposition to Wasco County officials' permissive attitude toward crimes committed by Rajneeshees, the hotel bomber (who shall be mentioned presently) was prosecuted aggressively and apprehended after his abscondment.

    For a significant portion of the crisis, the Antelope townspeople and the surrounding ranchers felt that they were more or less on their own. The authorities didn't begin to intervene until the Rajneeshees had broken so many state and federal laws that the problems could no longer be ignored. According to one Antelope resident:
    "I have tried in every way possible to get either federal officials, state officials, and our county officials didn't seem to care at all. No one cared what happened to us. No one would listen."
    - antelope resident, undated interview, Fear is the Master documentary
    Just as an aside, that's one of several clips excerpted from a documentary called "Fear is the Master", which was originally produced in 1983 before receiving an update and re-release in late 1985. It was clearly made by folks who opposed the Rajneeshees on religious grounds, and the film makes what turned out to be some fair comparisons between the guru and People's Temple leader Jim Jones, as well as some exaggerated comparisons between Bhagwan and Adolf Hitler. However, the film features a number of clips and interviews that don't seem to appear anywhere else. Most notable among these is footage of Sheela at an Antelope school board meeting, claiming that a local husband and father had committed suicide because his wife, who was in attendance at the school board meeting, had been cheating on him. Sheela goes on to state that her children should know what kind of mother is raising them. In an interview in "Fear is the Master", the woman categorically denies the accusations against her and her husband. It's one of the most savage displays of Sheela's shocking behavior that I've ever seen, and the Way Brothers must have known about it, because they pulled a couple of video clips from the documentary.

    Why It's Important: Surviving Rajneeshees insinuate that they encountered an "us against the world" situation from their first weeks in Oregon. In fact, they had been run out of India on a variety of charges, and their propensity for running afoul of the law continued almost immediately upon their arrival en masse in the United States. The local community, the local authorities, the State of Oregon, and the federal government tried to leave the Rajneeshees to their own devices, and it was the Rajneeshees who created the problems, not vice versa.

    * * *

    Myth #2: After an unidentified Oregonian terrorist bombed the Hotel Rajneesh, Sheela and her cronies saw no other option but to procure weapons, demonstrate the sanyassins' proficiency in their use, and threaten retaliation.

    The Evidence: The perpetrator of the attack against the Hotel Rajneesh was Stephen Paul Paster, and Portland police literally caught him in the act. Paster nearly blew his hand off in the attack, so there was very little question as to his guilt. Having visited Rajneeshpuram with two accomplices and found it to be rather heavily guarded, Paster seemingly decided to detonate a cache of three pipe bombs at the Hotel Rajneesh in Portland. He was apprehended and charged, immediately. Paster's wife posted bail, at which point Paster absconded. He was re-arrested several months later in Colorado, then tried, convicted, and sentenced to twenty years in prison.

    So, who was Stephen Paul Paster? First, he was a Californian, not an Oregonian. Second, rather than being the sort of conservative Christian that the producers seem comfortable criticizing in their documentary, Paster was a convert from Judaism to Islam, and a suspected member of an early Islamist terrorist organization known at Jamaat al Fuqra, or "Assembly of the Impoverished". The group was specifically known for attacking Indian interests, and Paster remains the leading suspect in the bombing of two religious sites in Seattle in 1984. Paster was released after serving four years of a twenty year sentence, and is believed to have fled to Lahore, Pakistan, where he allegedly teaches guerrilla warfare to terrorist operatives.

    That's the most important piece of this; but there are more. One name that was conspicuously absent from Wild Wild Country was Hugh Milne. Under the name Swami Shivamurti, or Shiva for short, Milne was one of Bhagwan's earliest disciples. He left the Rajneeshee community in November of 1982, and published a tell-all book in 1987. Milne is worth noting in this context because he established Bhagwan's own praetorian guard force, known as the "Samurais", years before the relocation from India to Oregon.

    Then, during the Summer of 1982, the Rajneeshees contracted with a company called Project Centurion to provide executive security during the ranch's first summer festival. One member of the security detail, Steven Sobel, subsequently reported that he was repeatedly asked about weapons and tactics.
    "They wanted the show of force so that anyone who had the idea that possibly assassinate Bhagwan, or do harm to him, would not, would not think about it so readily if he saw the weapons that we had... They definitely were very interested, when I was there, in the use and the tactical use of instinctive shooting, of certain things that one learns in the military."
    - Steve Sobel, undated interview, Fear is the Master documentary
    According to a 1985 article in The Oregonian, arms procurement escalated after the hotel bombing, but had begun in earnest months before.

    Why It's Important: The documentary implies a sort of moral equivalency between Oregonians and the Rajneeshees. However, despite plenty of anti-social behavior that seems to border on justified in retrospect, I've only ever encountered evidence that a single Oregonian ever fired so much as a shot in anger against the Rajneeshees, and that this was more or less a warning shot. Instead, the Rajneeshees treated the bombing as an opportunity to further shore up their growing arsenal. The Rajneeshees arrived paranoid, got more paranoid, and attempted to achieve their objectives through violence on several occasions. According to former KEZI journalist Scott Miller...
    "It was a bit of a shock at first for most of us when we saw these things being brandished the way they were, and it was sending a message, but I think this is their poor understanding of [public relations], you know. I mean, what message was it really sending? They may have thought it was sending a message that, 'Don't mess with us.' What it was really sending as a message was these people are crazy and dangerous."
    - Scott Miller, Oregon Experience: Rajneeshpuram, 2012
    * * *

    Myth #3: Having entered a long period of public silence prior to leaving India for the United States, the guru finally broke that silence after Sheela and her cronies left the ranch.

    The Evidence: Bhagwan actually broke his silence in October of 1984, right around the time that the two-pronged plan to poison the people of The Dalles, and to import homeless people and register them to vote, failed to swing the Wasco County election. The Sannyas Wiki records that Bhagwan resumed his spoken discourses in late October of 1984, and he had resumed some level of media availability no later than September of 1985. For example, an interview entitled Bhagwan: Oregon Seeing Red aired on Rogers Cablesystems in East Multnomah County on September 12th, 1985; Sheela's abrupt departure took place either the next day, or the day after, depending upon the source you consult. Here's a clip from that interview.
    Bhagwan Shree Rajneesh: "All colors are my favorite except red."
    Interviewer: "Do you see a lot of red around here?"
    Bhagwan Shree Rajneesh: "Your tie."
    Interviewer: "Why do these people like you so much? Why are you so appealing?"
    Bhagwan Shree Rajneesh: "I'm also wondering."
    - Bhagwan: Oregon Seeing Red, 1985
    There's actually a really awkward video clip in which Ma Prem Isabel, the commune's Public Relations director, reads a question about Sheela's conduct to Bhagwan during one of his evening appearances. Here's the audio from that exchange.
    "I was also very much offended by Sheela. Whenever she came back, I hit her hard, because she was not the way I would like her to be really outrageous! She was falling below the standard. And I was continuously telling her, 'Don't be worried, we don't have anything to lose. We have to gain the whole world, and nothing to lose.'"
    - Bhagwan Shree Rajneesh, circa 1984, from Guru: Bhagwan, His Secretary & His Bodyguard, 2010
    What's interesting about that clip is that in the original video, Sheela is sitting right at the edge of Bhagwan's stage, looking rather uncomfortable.

    Earlier, I mentioned Hugh Milne, whose involvement with the guru the producers managed to omit in their entirety. In a 2018 interview with BBC Radio Scotland, he offered his view on the matter:
    "The crucial question to many of the present day disciples of what he's now called, Osho, is did he know? And in my personal knowledge of him as a micro-manager, I have no doubt at all that he knew. And the FBI, who had access to the audio cassettes that Sheela secretly recorded of their daily one hour work meetings, have no doubt whatsoever that he knew everything that was going on. And it's not accidental that in their 1985 denouement, the federal government fined Rajneesh $400,000, and fined Sheela exactly the same amount of money, $400,000. And to me, that's testament to their basic awareness that they are co-guilty, and co-equal as responsible parties for the illegal activities that occurred."
    - Hugh Milne, 2018 interview, BBC Scotland
    When three years of both legal and illegal efforts failed to secure control of the Wasco County government, Bhagwan dispatched Sheela to Europe on fundraising duties. Her involuntary absence allowed the so-called "Hollywood Crowd" to exert more and more influence on Bhagwan, including plying him with both expensive gifts and illicit pharmaceuticals. This turn of events suggests that Bhagwan was quite aware of what was going on, and that Sheela was sidelined for failing to deliver on his directives. The irony, of course, is that her departure forced Bhagwan's hand, conditions at the commune began to deteriorate, and the entire scam fell apart in a matter of weeks.

    In a 1988 interview with a reporter for the Willamette Week, Sheela dropped this bombshell:
    "That's right. It is not strange. That has always been the agreement between Bhagwan and me. [Since] the day I became his secretary, the day I began his work, it has been understood between him and me that when the time comes to take the rap, I will be the one to take the rap. And I have taken the rap for him all along. One of the reasons that I portrayed myself so fierce was to attract people's attention on me and divert attention from him, because his life was threatened."
    - Ma Anand Sheela, 1988 interview, The Willamette Week
    Why It's Important: The suggestion that Bhagwan himself was uninvolved in Sheela's criminal conspiracies is much easier to sustain if the guru was disengaged from the world until Sheela's abrupt departure from Rancho Rajneesh. That suggested timeline affords the guru a great degree of plausible deniability, and various sannyasins continue to claim, without any actual basis, that Bhagwan was unaware of Sheela's illegal dealings. The actual timing of the conclusion of Bhagwan's so-called "Silent Period" bolsters the premise that he was orchestrating everything. In fact, I wouldn't be surprised if Sheela's library of covert recordings provided the FBI with ample evidence of Bhagwan's guilt.

    * * *

    Myth #4: Bhagwan Shree Rajneesh was an enlightened guru whose goal was to expand the consciousness of all mankind.

    The Evidence: Once again, two voices are important in this regard. The first is the aforementioned Hugh Milne. In the thirteenth chapter of his memoir about his life as one of Bhagwan's disciples, Milne relates the story of being summoned to the guru's personal dental suite - evidence suggests that it was constructed primarily as a front for the guru's daily nitrous oxide excursions, which seem to have begun before he'd left India.
    "Bhagwan went on: 'I am so relieved that I do not have to pretend to be enlightened any more.' [...] Are you serious, I thought to myself. If Bhagwan was not enlightened, then what was I doing in this hellhole, subject to a thousand petty restrictions, getting ill and working in sub-zero temperatures to build a commune that was angering and deliberately antagonising the local people more by the minute? Even by early 1982 I could not see any way that the commune could succeed. Bhagwan simply could not restrain himself from punching authority in the eye."
    - Hugh Milne, from Bhagwan: The God That Failed, 1986
    In fact, one selection from the book "Notes of a Madman", which Bhagwan dictated to his dentist while under the influence of nitrous oxide, ends with the following passage: "Wipe that tear from my eye. I have to pretend to be enlightened, and enlightened people are not supposed to cry." It's tough to interpret that as anything other than a sort of in vino veritas revelation.

    The second voice is none other than Ma Anand Sheela herself. In a 1985 interview with 60 Minutes Australia, Sheela openly acknowledged that the entire operation was an enormous con. YouTube hosts a series of videos in which Sheela lectures about a variety of topics, and in one such video, she answers a question by saying something to the effect of "You'd have to ask Bhagwan." Given that Sheela spent the bulk of the years between her October 1985 arrest, and Bhagwan's January 1990 death, serving a prison sentence at the Federal Correctional Institution in Dublin, California, these would seem to be jailhouse interviews; however, at least one video seems to mention "Osho", the name that Bhagwan began using in early 1989, after Sheela had been released from federal custody. In another such interview, Sheela dropped yet another bombshell:
    "I am going to again tell sannyasins of rude reality, which I lived everyday: Baghwan's Rolls Royce had first priority, then their meditation. Baghwan's watches had more time than their letters about their relationship. Who is going to donate what, had more priority. Because that money was needed to create the vision he needed - to create the vision he had - what he wanted to leave behind before his days were over. And it needed to be created and created with Godspeed. For that, money was required. So naturally, money had more priority. Good workers had more priority. Meditators had very last priority or no priority. Only time the enlightenment, and enlightened circle had priority when Baghwan wasn't getting his Rolls Royce that he wanted, or when some donator changed his mind to donate. Then immediately Baghwan declared that person enlightened. This is the rude reality. But, it was fun for me. I was laughing all the way. And saying, thank God, I don't have to meditate. Thank God I am not interested in being enlightened. Thank God I only love this man."
    - Ma Anand Sheela, undated interview
    After Wild Wild Country was released, the BBC sent Ishleen Kaur to interview Sheela, who doubled down:
    Ma Anand Sheela: "Bhagwan had a good carrot in front of his people: meditation and enlightenment. When he had enough, or when he wanted to help me with finances, so my work becomes a little easier, he dangled the carrot of enlightenment. He declared few people enlightened."
    Ishleen Kaur, BBC: "It was a hoax."
    Ma Anand Sheela: "In that sense, yes."
    - Ma Anand Sheela, BBC interview, 2018
    Why It's Important: The documentary's narrative is founded on the premise - or, at least, the possibility - that Bhagwan was, or thought he was, an enlightened guru. The evidence, and the testimony, suggests otherwise. Bhagwan possessed unquestionable charisma and intelligence, which allowed him to understand and influence many of those who found themselves in his orbit. He was known to have been an admirer of Russian philosopher George Gurdjieff, who was known to invent bizarre scenarios for the purpose of manipulating people and studying their behavior. Earlier in his memoir, Milne describes his own experience as one of Bhagwan's early test subjects when the guru sent Milne to work on a dirt farm in Central India, ostensibly to study how much labor he could squeeze out of his sanyassins. The plurality of the evidence suggests that Bhagwan wanted to experiment with humans, their relationships, and society writ large; and that any sincere pursuit of actual enlightenment evaporated when Bhagwan and Sheela discovered that they could convince willing test subjects to finance their lavish lifestyle.

    * * *

    Myth #5: To quote director Chapman Way, from a 2018 interview, "This is a story about two groups who refused to compromise."

    The Evidence: In fact, the locals were willing to compromise on any number of occasions, especially if those compromises would end the constant harassment by the Rajneeshees. There are plenty of examples of this, but I think the most illustrative is what the Rajneeshees did to the Antelope school. This story is recounted in that 2012 OPB documentary.
    "Back in Antelope, a local conflict would prove pivotal to the commune's future. The battle between the ranchers and the Rajneeshees had surrounded the Antelope school. This would become ground zero, with children from both camps caught in the middle... Rather than mix the children together, both sides agreed to redraw the 250 square mile school district. Only Antelope and Rancho Rajneesh would remain in the district, connected by a one-foot-wide strip of land. The ranchers' children would be bused miles away to Maupin or Madras. But another problem quickly emerged: the process had disqualified several ranchers from the school board. When sanyassins filled the vacant positions, the new Rajneeshee-controlled board voted to stop the redistricting plan. They declared the Antelope school open to all students, then withheld funds earmarked for busing the non-Rajneesh students to separate schools."
    - Oregon Experience: Rajneeshpuram, 2012
    It's also notable that two different parties, Becky Harvey and Dickon Kent, both reported that the education program in Antelope, as orchestrated by the commune, was a sham. Becky Harvey was the daughter of Bob Harvey, the ranch hand who spent a number of months assisting the sanyassins before becoming a witness for the state. In that 1983 documentary entitled "Fear is the Master", Becky Harvey reports the following:
    "We'd go to school in the morning, and we'd work in the afternoon. And while we were at school, really, it's just a place for the kids to go to get out of the grown-ups' way so that we wouldn't bother them. And really, we didn't learn anything."
    - Becky Harvey, undated interview, Fear is the Master documentary
    Dickon Kent was the son of a sanyassin, and spent his teenage years at Rancho Rajneesh. In a March 2019 interview on the Building Utopia podcast, he concurred with Becky Harvey's claims that the Rajneeshee-operated school was, for all intents and purposes, one more scam. He talked about a work study program that they developed that, in effect, allowed him and others to circumvent a school environment in which no one was learning anything anyway, and instead receive high school credit for working in the commune's audio/visual shop.

    In case after case after case, this was how the Rajneeshees operated. They would use intimidation of one sort or another to gain an upper hand against the locals. When the locals would yield, or offer some sort of settlement in an attempt to end the harassment, the Rajneeshees would use that submission to gain additional leverage. According to former Antelope Mayor Margaret Hill, speaking at the 1982 Town Hall taping:
    "You know, when you were here six months ago, I voiced some concerns about what might happen. And actually, most of those things have happened. Our city has been taken over. The people who live here have been laughed at, and ridiculed. Some of our longtime residents have left, we've been involved in litigation. I've lost track of the number of litigations that we have been involved with. The pressure has been unrelenting. Demands to do this, demands to do that, if you don't do this, if you don't do that... "
    - Margaret Hill, KATU's Town Hall, circa 1982
    None other than Hugh Milne concurs with that appraisal. Here's another clip from that BBC interview from 2018:
    "I was deputed as a photographer to harass the local people in that small village of forty people, Antelope, by sitting outside their house with a large format camera in a big car with the engine running, taking photos of them whenever they came out of their house. And this is April 1982, and I'm thinking to myself, 'What am I doing? This is not meditation, this is not loving kindness. We're harassing these retired people who have come here to live the last of their days in peace, because we want their village and we want their voting rights to re-zone the ranch. And so, events like that started to break my heart."
    - Hugh Milne, 2018 interview, BBC Scotland
    Why It's Important: The producers of Wild Wild Country present a specific narrative: that Bhagwan Shree Rajneesh was an englightened guru with a dream of expanding the consciousness of humanity by constructing a revolutionary commune as an example for the world. Unfortunately, the commune ran afoul of the locals, neither party was willing to compromise, and the situation escalated beyond either party's control. That wasn't the case. This was, in fact, an invasion by a group of outsiders who had been run out of their old stomping grounds. The locals had deduced this in fairly short order, and did what they could to oppose it on both moral and practical grounds. Once the invaders got themselves almost immediately in over their heads, they resorted to a mix of hostile litigation, harassment, financial pressure, and criminal activity in their effort to overwhelm their neighbors into acquiescence. This crisis was not a case of two opposing factions treating one another as the proverbial "other". Rather, it's the story of a con artist and his inner circle, who attempted to relocate their con from one place to another, and who then resorted to increasingly desperate measures to keep the con from falling apart.

    * * *

    I'd like to close with a point of speculation. Neither Wild Wild Country nor any other documentary about the four-year-long standoff dispute these particular dots, but I'll make the attempt. A federal grand jury indicted Bhagwan in camera - that's legalese for "in secret" - on October 23rd, 1985, a little over a month after Sheela and her underlings escaped to Germany. Word of that indictment nonetheless leaked to the Rajneeshees, and about four days later, Bhagwan and several of his closest disciples boarded a pair of Learjets that were eventually interdicted in North Carolina, presumably in the last stage of an attempt to escape to the Bahamas. Now, consider a few things we know:

    - First: we know that by late 1985, the FBI was aware that the Rajneeshees had developed a network of informants. The most famous of these was federal mediator John Mathis, who developed a relationship with Rajneeshpuram mayor Krishna Deva. By October 23rd, 1985 Krishna Deva had left the commune with Sheela, but Mathis can't have been alone.
    - Second: we also know that state and federal officials harbored a great deal of anxiety regarding the prospect of arresting Bhagwan. By late 1985, the Rajneeshees were heavily armed, and in addition to the so-called Peace Force, Bhagwan had his own Praetorian Guard, and there were fears that the commune members - to include women and children - would close ranks to protect the guru.

    My point of speculation? I suspect that federal officials intentionally leaked news of the indictment in the hope that Bhagwan would attempt to flee. They may or may not have known the specifics of the guru's escape plan, but it's clear that federal agents would have preferred to arrest Bhagwan and a handful of associates, rather than sending a small army into a box canyon to confront an entrenched community who had spent four years acquainting themselves with the terrain. Am I right? We may never know, but it stands to reason.

    * * *

    Enlightenment is a tricky thing, and one might reasonably propose that it's in the eye of the beholder... But enlightenment is one thing; predation is another entirely. Say what you will about Bhagwan's philosophy, but as we observe the fortieth anniversary of the Rajneeshees' arrival in America, the evidence leaves little room for doubt. With the help of Sheela and a few key operatives, the guru preyed upon his followers, then turned that instinct on the new neighbors once they began to recognize what was going on. For the most widely available documentary on the entire episode to build this false narrative around the events in question simply adds insult to injury.

    There are plenty of other aspects of the story presented in Wild Wild Country that don't stand up to scrutiny. For the sake of their narrative, the documentarians assume a strictly neutral stance, refusing to play referee. Even so, I'd recommend Wild Wild Country as an introduction to the events that took place in central Oregon between mid-1981 and late 1985. Once you're ready for the rest of the story, I recommend the Building Utopia podcast by Rusty King. Whereas Wild Wild Country is neutral to a fault, Building Utopia strives for, and achieves, fairness. Rusty's final episodes have been delayed by a book deal, so here's hoping that the book is published soon, and that he follows through on the final episodes shortly thereafter.

    We'll revisit the Rajneeshees at some point in the future. For now, I'll be posting a sourced transcript of this episode in lieu of show notes - a sort of showing of my work in preparing this episode. Thanks for listening.